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Anger over jailed Russian lawyer's death remains one year on

A year ago, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in prison from an untreated illness. But he was never convicted of a crime, and human rights activists are calling attention to that fact on the anniversary of his death.

A framed photo of Sergei Magnitsky

Magnitsky was just 37 when he died in prison

Sergei Magnitsky's time in jail came to an end one year ago on November 16. But Magnitsky's sentence didn't come to an end - he died in prison from complications of an illness.

One year after his death, human rights activists are calling attention to Magnitsky's death because the 37-year-old Russian lawyer was never convicted of a crime, and spent a year in prison waiting to face charges of tax evasion.

'Held as hostage'

Supporters say Magnitsky had exposed one of the biggest tax fraud scandals in Russian history that involved many top Russian officials. Magnitsky defended Hermitage Capital Management, a multibillion-dollar fund that accused Russian Interior Ministry officials of stealing up to $230 million (169 million euros) from the fund in a tax scam.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva

Alexeyeva suspects the Interior Ministry of foul play

"A Russian citizen was put in detention and held as a hostage by interior ministry officials, in conditions which according to Russian and international norms are seen as torture," said human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, charged with implementing international human rights accords in Moscow.

But the Interior Ministry said on Monday that Magnitsky himself was the one trying to steal the money by filing tax forms illegally.

The spokeswoman for interior ministry investigators, Irina Dudukina, said that evidence from two recently arrested businessmen had confirmed Magnitsky's involvement.

"The version of Magnitsky's involvement in the embezzlement of 5.4 billion rubles ($175 million)" is based on their evidence, she told a news conference.

Posthumous award

Magnitsky's time in prison and death caused an outrage in the human rights community. They allege Magnitsky was mistreated in prison and requests to have his illness treated were repeatedly ignored.

A day ahead of the anniversary of Magnitsky's death, Transparency International posthumously awarded him one of its Integrity Awards, saying Magnitsky's "commitment to integrity ultimately cost him his life."

Author: Matt Zuvela (AFP, AP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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